Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jazz Giant Stumbles

The tough times just get tougher for the large institutions we traditionally associate with the jazz industry.

The latest sign is a financial crisis at the International Association of Jazz Education. Recently, an email was sent by IAJE president Chuck Owen soliciting emergency donations from members. Owen cites two reasons for the organization's fiscal shortfall: the failure of its "Campaign For Jazz" to reach its target over the past five years; and the poor attendance — 40 percent lower than normal — at the recent IAJE conference in Toronto.

In reaction to the financial crisis, the IAJE has temporarily suspended four major initiatives: publication of its glossy magazine; its scholarship program; the Park City Jazz Summit; and the search for a new executive director for IAJE. Former IAJE executive director Bill McFarlin resigned in January.

Owen anticipates that the 40-year-old organization will have to be "significantly" restructured to survive.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Great, But Consider The Alternative...

The Washington Post has a story today (free registration is required) about the death of the "smooth jazz" radio format.

While I'm happy to hear less Kenny G, Najee and company on the airwaves, I can't help but fear that what will replace them will be even worse.

I particularly like the G-Man's quote about the possibility of listeners discovering Charlie Parker through him. Yes, but Kenny, although Bird would like that, it won't do much for your future record sales.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kurt Rosenwinkel At Bat

I know a lot of music reviewers who ignore the public relations material that accompanies new releases, but you never know what insights you might find there.

Like this from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, being quoted about his experiences with Verve Records (his new double live CD is being released by ArtistShare):

"I am grateful to have had the support of a great label like Verve, but I am also looking forward to not having to pay for CEO salaries, Times Square office space, Blackberrys and expense accounts with my record sales."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RIP Dennis Irwin

Very sad news about the passing of bassist Dennis Irwin.

John Scofield's group with Irwin and Bill Stewart was one of my very favourites, as was Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts.

Ethan Iverson has some thoughtful comments on Do The Math.

Seminal Listening

I'm not sure what spurred this post, except perhaps my Portland discovery of Frank Tirro's Jazz: A History, mentioned earlier. My mention of that during a panel discussion prompted fellow panelist, Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson to probe deeper about books that spur our further exploration of jazz at an early age.

That spun into further thinking about the seminal discs that ignited my interest in jazz when I was solidly settled into a life in rock music.

In the early '60s, my father had a habit of playing LPs back-to-back on Sunday mornings. There was something exotic about this, perhaps because it revealed a much different side of my civil servant dad who did the dutiful 9-to-5 during the week. He displayed fairly catholic tastes during these listening sessions — spinning everything from my brothers' Elvis Presley and Kingston Trio records to original cast recordings of Broadway musicals. What caught my ear most were discs by Bennie Goodman (especially one with Charlie Christian on guitar), Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey.

My own listening at this time was running toward bad-boy rock: electric Dylan, early Rolling Stones, The Byrds.

Jazz went on hold in the mid-'60s, but burst back in when a friend brought over a Charlie Parker LP. I dug back through my father's collection and discovered a great little recording called Two Of A Mind by Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, and Wes Montgomery's California Dreaming. By this time I was deep into guitar rock, especially Hendrix and the Allman Brothers Band, so I was wide open to discovering John McLaughlin, which immediately led to Miles Davis' Live-Evil, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Now Spinning

Okay... enough winter! With more snow than these parts have seen in 17 years (it's official) and another 20 inches apparently on the way this weekend, that's enough. Daylight savings time starts Sunday. So does March Break. Just go!

If ever there was a winter recording, Jane Ira Bloom's aptly named Mental Weather is it. There are swirls of sound — furious enough to be the soundtrack for the stuff flying outside my window. Icy tones. And enough deep emotion to remind you that we will survive to see another spring.

Oh, yeah, and Matt Wilson, too. Great stuff.

Full review is forthcoming in the June DownBeat. June! Yeah, like that's going to be here anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Props for 'Q'

I don't often praise my native country's public broadcaster for its jazz coverage, which has shrivelled considerably over the years, but one program — the midday entertainment program Q — is doing some cool stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, host Jian Ghomeshi featured a well-produced interview with Ornette Coleman, and today Chick Corea talked and played in the studio. His interview section ranged from Miles Davis to Stevie Wonder to how Scientology informs his approach to collaboration, and his four-minute improvisation on what he called "this old dog" of a piano was a sublime little encapsulation of his various styles.

Q podcasts all of its shows, so check it out.

Fighting the Apocalypse

Some days it's hard to maintain faith that the music industry will survive in any recognizable form.

It was bad enough — a joke, really — to learn that one of the major labels is hiring the mean-spirited gossip-monger who calls himself Perez Hilton as a talent consultant. Now, news comes that No Depression — a magazine that focuses on alt-country music is folding after its May issue.

Whether or not you like Steve Earle, Wilco and Emmylou Harris (I do), this is very bad news. Peter Blackstock and Grant Alden, the founders of No Depression, were serious music journalists from the old school. It wasn't unusual for them to publish 5,000-word articles on artists, and to treat the music of people like Earle, Harris and others as art that forms an important part of the dialogue of American social life.

As both a writer and a fan, I'll miss No Depression and mourn the continuing shift toward the abyss for the music industry.